HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, June 13, 2011

India: Prologue

Alright, I'm back (well, in Kuala Lumpur's airport, actually) after two weeks in the most simultaneously exhilarating, fascinating, frustrating, and infuriating place I've ever been.

Let me start by saying that India is utterly, bat-shit crazy. Vietnam is certifiably insane, but it has a softer side that surfaces from time to time: a bit like Christian Bale in 'American Psycho' - he'll take you out to a nice dinner, but he may cut your head off with a chainsaw later that night. India, on the other hand, is the full Jack Nicholson from 'The Shining' - he'll axe you in the chest as soon as you walk in, and then have a laugh about it. (And I mean that in a good way.)

In comparison to every other country I've visited, everything in India - from the kindness of the people, to the mad traffic, the flavors of the food, the pollution, the scenery, the number of cows in the street - is multiplied by 10. As a result, there are few minor, or low-key, experiences in the country. From the moment you step off the plane, India comes at you full bore, and everything that happened to me was turned up to 11 (Let's see how many film references I can pack into one post, shall we?) - the stunning seafood platter in Cochin; the harrowing, death-defying autorickshaw ride in Munnar that left me more deliriously terrified than I've ever been; the serenity of Allepey's backwaters; the Chettinad buffet at the Taj Green Cove in Kovalam; the temples of Madurai and Trichy; the list goes on.

This isn't to say, however, that I enjoyed every moment of the trip. There were times of despairing frustration, massive boredom ("How could you possibly be bored in India?", you're probably asking. I'll get to that.), and downright anger. Overall, though it was an incredible trip; and India is an absolutely fascinating country.

That doesn't mean that it is for everyone, though. It takes a seasoned, patient traveler to deal with everything India throws at you. For example, if you get motion sickness, you will be throwing up everything you've ever eaten within the first few minutes of any road journey. Roads in India are terrible, and the drivers, who are very friendly outside of their vehicles, seem to be overcome with a maniacal desire for speed and multiple acts of vehicular manslaughter as soon as they get behind the wheel. Most roads are one narrow lane each way, so if the car in front of you is going slower, the driver rides his ass, honking mercilessly, darting in and out of the other lane, waiting for a window to pass. Once one opens, they drop a gear and thrash the hopelessly underpowered engine until they are past, and jerk back into the right lane, moments before they collide with the oncoming bus/car/autorickshaw/moto/cow/feral dog. All of this rapid accelerating, braking, and jerking around makes for a rough ride that would be stomach-churning for those with weak constitutions.

If you have problems with your personal space being encroached upon, you won't stand a chance. In a country of over a billion people, there simply is no space for such a concept as someone's own private area. So, prepare to be stepped on, elbowed, tripped over, tripped onto, and generally fondled, without any hint of an apology.

If you are put off by risky modes of transport, you will  be in constant fear of death. Seat belts are an afterthought. Speed limits are either non-existent or ignored. The police do place speed gates on some stretches of road, but instead of slowing down, drivers simply see how quickly they can slalom through them. Bus drivers (they will be discussed at length in later posts) cannonball down incredibly narrow streets, bellowing their ocean liner-caliber horns merrily the whole time. (Wait, that all sounds a lot like Saigon...) Trains run with their doors wide open, so feel free to fall out anytime you please, and so on.

But, if you can handle all of these issues (And they are rather minor, aren't they?), as well as a few other problems, and you enjoy adventure, then India is perfect for you.

I did a lot on this trip, covering around 1,000 kilometers, so the next dozen or so posts will be dedicated to it - I plan on writing one for each city I visited, and there will be a few dedicated to some particularly interesting experiences that deserve extended discussion. Hope you enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. WOW ! FASCINATING !!What a "RoalerCoaster ride in India" you gave us...I could also hear through your narration The 5000 pipe Trinity organ "flying" in every corner of India with "In A Gadda Da Vida"!